The Image: Simon Kossoff
'WAS HERE' (the story of an abandoned series)
It was the end of the first week after Bin Laden was killed by Navy Seals and this issue of Time Magazine was out on the newsstands everywhere and I found it both unsettling and powerfully symbolic to see his face juxtaposed openly against a backdrop of everyday American vernacular. Since moving to America in '08 I have discovered that the fear of terrorism and Bin Laden seems to have become so much a part of the American psyche that over the years following the tragedy of 9/11, whether we would like to admit it or not, Bin Laden has become part of the group consciousness of the nation as a whole - standing as the ultimate universal archetype of evil and as the biggest, most insidious threat to national and personal security. Now seeing his face crossed out in blood red ink on the cover of the latest edition of Time Magazine, this private and individual terror that so many people carried around within them every day had suddenly been externalized and it could be now seen almost everywhere I turned, mirroring the way that his presence was felt internally beforehand. It was like a great national exorcism had taken place.
It was after seeing this issue of Time Magazine that I had the idea that I wanted to photograph its cover whenever I encountered it, naming the series 'Was Here.' The project would be an attempt to explore and acknowledge this dark power (and the diffusion of it) over so many individual's outlook and ideals. Unfortunately though, my work and school schedule was so busy at that particular time that I did not have the chance to get out to record this image in the exhaustive manner I intended and the week the magazine was out sadly passed me by without me making a single photograph.
Luckily I did have a long road trip planned at the end of the following week which I envisioned would give me a second chance to work on it. My mother and brother would be coming to the USA from England to visit me and my wife and we were going to meet them in New York City where we would then rent a car and drive back to Kansas, where we live. I decided it would be here I would be given this second opportunity, but this time I would be able to explore it on a much wider geographical scale. The magazine was no longer on the newsstands, but I had bought myself a copy and my idea was to photograph it in as many places as I possibly could both in NYC and on the long drive back to Kansas.
This particular photograph is one of the first images I made for this series and which ended up being the most successful photograph, I think, that came from it. It was made on the plane somewhere between Kansas and New York City.
This project, which was actually abandoned later on the trip for various reasons, was a departure from the usual way that I work and it was partly because of this that the project ultimately failed. Usually I am not one to externally alter or set up any of my photographs, preferring to record images as I find them - to instead walk around, stand back or get close to whatever my subject may be in order to get the viewpoint which resonates as true to my personal vision as possible, always in search of a balance or harmony between self and subject with the end of hopefully transcending both. This photograph stands in contradiction to this usual way that I work and I found as time went on, that it became increasingly more difficult for me to make pictures in this way without them looking horribly contrived.
The project was also abandoned of other reasons too. I discovered, whilst shooting, that it was perhaps - after 10 years - just still too soon to be dealing with this as a subject matter somehow and I became more and more uncomfortable taking the magazine out of my satchel to set up photographs with this face in it, in spite of the presence of its big red cross and I began to draw some negative attention, disapproving looks, unwanted questions and also some knee-jerk reactions which were at times aggressively charged. In these situations explaining what it was I was doing did not seem to help in any way either and at times I felt in personal danger. I found this especially while I was at Ground Zero itself and also outside NYC in some of the small towns. This single photograph is the only one which now remains from this failed project which I feel has truly worked.
Kossoff is a member of the Get the Picture photo collective.
Tags: Simon Kossoff